Greenway Sale of Agatha Christie Family Items Nets Over £300,000 at Exeter Auction

Published 12th September 2006

Greenway House in Devon.

Greenway House in Devon.

Items from Greenway House in South Devon, the former home of the Queen of crime writers Dame Agatha Christie, were eagerly snapped up at auction by collectors and her many fans for an astonishing £303,000 today (Tuesday, 12th September 2006) – double the figure expected.

Over 700 lots, including books, ceramics, pictures, prints, works of art, silver, collectables, furniture, jewellery, items of clothing, memorabilia and personal effects from Greenway were sold at the auction held by Bearne's (now Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood) in Exeter.

The Greenway Sale drew wide interest from bidders around the globe in a truly unique auction packed by 400-500 people during the seven-hour marathon from 10:00am to after 7:00pm.

And, in what was almost certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity to buy something with the unique provenance of Greenway, it certainly caught the public's imagination.

Bearne's (now Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood) estimate that over 2,000 people came to view the sale over the last three days, and there was a queue outside on Saturday morning and today when the doors opened.

Whilst many people were from the UK, some had travelled from overseas to view and attend the sale. Many left commission bids whilst others phoned through their bids live to a bank of staff in the saleroom.

With pre-sale estimates ranging from as low as £10 to as high as £12,000, it was a sale for everyone with an interest in the life and work of the late Dame Agatha Christie, providing people with a real chance to own items that came directly from the author's former home.

Lot Number 1, a George III cut-glass scent bottle, really set the tone for the rest of the auction selling at £340, nearly double the estimate of £100-200.

Appropriately enough, however, the group of twenty nine Agatha Christie early or First Editions, of which 28 were signed by the author, sold for very high prices and realised almost £42,000 in total.

For example, the signed 1939 first-edition of 'Murder is Easy', inscribed 'from Agatha Christie' sold for £2,300 from an estimate of £1,000-2,000.

A copy of 'The Hollow', first edition 1946, inscribed 'Rosalind from Agatha Christie' went for £1,050 (estimate £500-£700).

And the top selling book was 'Death on the Nile, first edition 1937, inscribed 'Punkie from Agatha' (estimate £400-600) was sold for £2,400.

But a rare small Irish silver Monteith (punchbowl) with detachable rim, assayed in Galway circa 1700, was the second top selling single lot of the day at £9,500 against an estimate of £3,000-£5,000.

There really was something for everyone, and the lowest price of the day was for a group of bowls which sold for just £5 to a local buyer!

And the last lots of the sale also saw high prices: a large Hispano-Flemish cabinet on stand was the top lot and knocked down for £13,000 against a pre-sale estimate of £8,000-£12,000; and the final lot, a William & Mary veneered chest went for £3,800 from an estimate of £1,500-2,000.

Most of the other 150 lots of silver and silver-plate in the sale sold very well since a number are recorded in Agatha Christie's own hand-written inventory of her silver collection.

A fine William & Mary basting spoon with oval rat-tail bowl and tubular handle by Joseph Ward of London from 1700 made £3,000 from an estimate of £1,000-£1,500.

Two other basting spoons in the sale, dated 1700 and 1713 (estimates £300-500 and £400-600) also sold well at £1,000 and £450.

From the later reign of George III, a pair of heavy oval meat dishes provided further interest for collectors of Irish silver. Made by Robert Breading, assayed in Dublin in 1795 and weighing nearly 70oz, the dishes engraved with the arms of Fitzwilliam sold for £3,100 from an estimate of £1,500-£2,000.

A limited number of pieces of Tunbridge-ware from the extensive collection remaining in the house were sold. This type of marquetry work from Tunbridge Wells is always popular and the various lots achieved good prices.

For example, a workbox with fitted interior, and a view of Eridge Castle on the lid, sold for £560 from an estimate of £300-500.

Amongst the ceramics and glass section of the sale, a pair of attractive Chinese oval dishes proved popular. Decorated in bright colours with a pseudo tobacco leaf design, and classic examples of export porcelain from the Qianlong period (1736-1795), they were knocked down for £2,100 against a pre-sale estimate of £800-£1,200. A Wemyss mug sold for £660 from an estimate of £200-£250.

In stark contrast to the Oriental and English porcelain, a group of 12 items of 'Barge-ware', a distinctive type of treacle glazed pottery produced in the late 19th Century in the Burton-on-Trent area and particularly favoured by bargees' wives, also sold well with a total hammer price of £2,015.

A Barge-ware teapot and cover with Devon interest bearing the inscription 'Mrs Caryl/49 Longbrook Street, Exeter/1893' sold for £190 against an estimate of £100-£150.

In the jewellery section, a stunning Indian Jaipur necklace sold for £1,650 against an estimate of £600-800; a gold, turquoise and amethyst bead bracelet which was a facsimile of the 5,000BC original went for £900, and a gold, diamond and gem set giardinetto brooch sold for £2,200 against an estimate of £500-£700.

Three fountain pens, a bottle of Indian ink, a leather-bound address book and some Greenway House writing paper sold well at £740 against a guide price of £100-150!

Some items of clothing and dresses sold well too at up to double and treble their estimates and the luggage too. Prices ranged from £50 to £310.

From the picture section of the Greenway Sale, two 20th Century paintings stood out as being of particular interest and others sold well too.

A still life of chrysanthemums by Alfred Janes (1911-1999) painted in a particularly attractive 'mosaic' technique sold for £4,300 from an estimate of £3,000-£5,000.

Another 20th Century work, 'Fruit Picking' by Leon Underwood (1890-1978), which probably dates from circa 1930 following a trip to Mexico in 1928 sold for £8,800 and was expected to fetch between £5,000 and £7,000.

Andrew Thomas, a partner with Bearne's (now Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood) of Exeter said: "Bidders turned out in force today and not only voted with their feet but also their wallets too in order to buy a piece of the Agatha Christie legend.

"With just over 700 lots on offer, including many items or groups of items estimated at under £100, there really was something for everyone and an opportunity for Agatha Christie collectors and enthusiasts everywhere to make an inexpensive purchase.

"As expected, the group of thirty Agatha Christie early or First Edition books, twenty-eight of which bore personal inscriptions from the writer, proved to be of special interest and realised almost £42,000.

"Bearne's were delighted to have been given the opportunity to sell this fascinating collection from the former home of one of the most important authors of the 20th century.

"The varied lots reflected all aspects of life at Greenway House and attracted the sort of international interest that Dame Agatha's life deserves.

"After 2,000 people came to the sale viewings in Exeter over the weekend and yesterday, we have all been looking forward to this fascinating sale and no one has been disappointed.

"The sale atmosphere was electric but, more importantly, a considerable sum has been raised which will help the National Trust's restoration of Greenway House for all to enjoy in future."

Dame Agatha Christie, her daughter Rosalind and husband Anthony Hicks were all avid collectors of works of art throughout their lives and Greenway House was almost full to bursting.

Although she never wrote any of her books there, Greenway became a much loved holiday home and a retreat for Dame Agatha where she spent a great deal of her relaxation time, particularly in the Summer months, from 1938 when she bought the house until her death in 1976.

In an act of considerable generosity, Greenway was gifted to the National Trust in 2000 by Agatha Christie's daughter Rosalind and her husband Anthony Hicks, and Agatha Christie's grandson Mathew Prichard.

This gift included the house, where the Hicks continued to live, the garden and wider estate, but not the contents of the house. To date, only the 30-acre garden, boat-house and footpaths of the 278- acre estate have been available for public enjoyment, but the National Trust hopes to re-open the house during 2008 following a careful, costly and much needed restoration of the house. With the deaths of Rosalind and Anthony Hicks in 2004 and 2005, the house contents passed to Mathew Prichard who intends to gift much of the vast treasure trove of possessions built up by his grandmother, mother and stepfather to the National Trust.

However, with such a large and diverse collection of works of art found within Greenway, and following instructions from the Executors of the Hicks' Estate, the decision was taken by the family to dispose of some surplus items by auction. The family is donating half of the proceeds of today's sale to the National Trust to help fund the Trust's conservation work at Greenway.

The items in the auction were first agreed with the Trust and none of the items on sale are central to the collections that the Trust hopes to show and preserve for future generations.

In the 'Greenway Sale' catalogue's foreword, Mathew Prichard (NB Correct spelling), Agatha Christie's grandson, explains the background to the sale: "My Grandmother, Agatha Christie, was a great collector, as were my parents, and so am I!

"The bulk of what she collected will ultimately be on display at Greenway, now owned and managed by the National Trust, and we hope, with substantial refurbishment, that the house will be open to the public in 2008.

"What is offered for sale on September 12th is either what there is not room for at Greenway -- like most collectors, my family collected far too much and were reluctant to sell anything -- or what did not really belong there.

"All of it is authentic family material, including some signed Agatha Christie books, and I hope you feel what is for sale gives an opportunity to share in a piece of literary history, as well as a piece of stunningly beautiful Devon property. The sale proceeds will be shared equally between my family and the National Trust's refurbishment costs at Greenway."

The sale coincided with the second Christie Week, a national celebration to mark her birthday and in recognition of the achievements and extraordinary legacy of the best-selling novelist of all time. (See more at the website:

Known the world over as the Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie is the world's best-known mystery writer. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and another billion in over 45 foreign languages. It is claimed she is outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare.

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